Isle of Dogs

Hounded out: The canine exiles of Isle of Dogs led by Chief (Bryan Cranston)
Verdict: 
8/10 Wes Anderson’s new animated film is unlikely to win over his doubters, but is still a visual delight.
Release Date: 
Friday, March 30, 2018
Written by: 

Wes Anderson stop-motion animated film follows a Japanese boy's mission to save his city's exiled canine population.

8

To his fans, Wes Anderson is a master at building worlds - quirky, intimate and beautiful landscapes that allow audiences and his characters to dream - and his new stop-motion animation, Isle of Dogs may be his most ambitious creative enterprise yet.

The film is set in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki in the near-future, where Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura, who also has a co-writing credit), has decided drastic action must be taken to prevent the spread of dog-borne diseases.

He orders all Megasaki's hounds to be exiled to a deserted island, which serves as a rubbish dump, in order to stop the spread of debilitating diseases like snout fever and canine flu.

To set an example to the city's inhabitants, the first hound to be banished is Spots, the loyal guard dog of Kobayashi's ward Atari (Koyu Rankin).

Heartbroken, Atari flies a stolen plane to the island to seek out his old companion, where he finds a survivalist canine society, but no Spots.

A pack of dogs greets him when he crash-lands on the island and helps him in his quest, although its leader, a proud stray called Chief (Bryan Cranston) is less than enthusiastic about helping the youngster find his beloved mutt.

Back in the city school, children led by American exchange student Tracy (Greta Gerwig) are investigating Kobayashi's plans with help from a research scientist called Yoko Ono (voiced by the real Yoko Ono), who worked as part of a team attempting to develop a cure for the diseases that have resulted in the dogs' banishment.

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Isle of Dogs is Anderson's second attempt at a fully animated stop-motion movie, following his 2009 adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's book Fantastic Mr. Fox, and it looks mesmeric.

The attention to detail in creating the futuristic Japanese backdrop and the bizarre, run down island the dogs inhabit is astonishing.

Everything from rusting cages to disused factories and fairgrounds are stunningly rendered in a manner that still probably isn't possible with computerised technology.

Movie aficionados will also delight at the references the director drops in, with Citizen Kane obviously nodded to, as well as the film's Japanese cinema influences.

A stellar voice cast, including Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum as the rest of Chief's gang, and Scarlett Johansson as Chief's love interest, Nutmeg also ensure few lines in a funny script fall flat.

Despite this, the film doesn't entirely flow. The Japanese characters talk in their own language - with no subtitles. As a result, an interpreter, played by Frances McDormand, is required to explain the complexities of the plot - a duty she shares with Gerwig's character and narrator Courtney B. Vance.

This means proceedings occasionally halt to allow exposition which is occasionally a little grating.

Isle of Dogs is also very much a Wes Anderson film. Fans of the director have long delighted at his idiosyncrasies and quirks, but they sometimes alienate others.

That said, even those who are not entirely on board with the complicated plot and the director's indulgences can marvel at an animation made with such care and devotion that every scene is a pleasure to look at.

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